Mary Jane Park / Photo by Rossie Newson
By Mary Jane Park, Guest Contributor
Art is good for the soul. It fuels the imagination. And increasingly throughout the Tampa Bay area, art is helping to generate tourism, economic development, and job creation.
Cultural activities thrive here. In St. Petersburg, the Dali Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Chihuly Collection bring thousands of visitors to the area each year. Those guests fill hotel rooms and restaurants, pay Florida sales taxes, and sometimes find our city so desirable that they choose to move here. Numerous galleries and studios are destinations for residents and tourists alike.
A short distance west from St. Petersburg’s magnificent, bustling waterfront, the Warehouse Arts District is creating even more opportunity. We call our part of the Sunshine City the area “Where Art is Made.” Buildings that often were abandoned as nearby railway use declined are being transformed into working areas for artists of many disciplines. Businesses such as craft breweries and distilleries, architecture firms, and a monthly vintage market are thriving here. A once-underutilized commercial neighborhood is becoming a desirable destination for even more small-business development in the city’s core. Artists including glass maestro Duncan McClellan and master sculptor Mark Aeling employ other artists in their studios. The Morean Center for Clay in the Historic Train Station is one of the largest working ceramic entities in the Southeast.
Organized in 2012, the Warehouse Arts District Association is constructing 28 new, affordable artist studios within the skin of an existing industrial building at the ArtsXchange, a nearly three-acre property the organization acquired in 2014. Through public and private contributions, and over several phases, the WADA’s goal is to create affordable space for a variety of artists who might otherwise be priced out of the rapidly developing creative corridor. Doing so ensures that artists can continue to work in the district and contribute to the city’s overall economy.
As we interviewed the artists who will be the first tenants at the ArtsXchange, we repeatedly heard how hungry they are for community. Without exception, they told us that they are drawn to an environment that invites interaction. The rental fees are substantially below market value, and the space includes areas that are conducive to community activities, conversations, performances, exhibitions, classes, and other gathering opportunities. It also allows us to expand our educational offerings to students of all ages.
Leaders in the Warehouse Arts District Association are working with our neighbors and public officials to establish landscaping, lighting, sidewalks, signage, and other improvements throughout the community. One of our short-term goals is to open portions of the Pinellas Trail to pedestrians and bicyclists during St. Petersburg’s monthly Second Saturday ArtWalk.
The project is transformational, converting blighted property into an inspirational art center and the Warehouse Arts District into a thriving and diverse economic, artistic, and entrepreneurial community.
True, art is good for the soul. And as creatives throughout Tampa Bay are rapidly demonstrating, it is good for business.
Mary Jane Park is executive director of the Warehouse Arts District Association in St. Petersburg. Please contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org